So much has been said about A Way For Tulsa (AWFT), and not all of it has been good. Most, comments, have been related to the confusion about what it is, and what it is supposed to do or accomplish. Sometimes really smart people can take simple ideas and complicate them where others cannot understand them or appreciate them. Well, let's break down the complex and make it where it is can hopefully be better understood.
How did A Way Home for Tulsa originate?
When Gail Richards and Judy Kishner decided to raise $30 million dollars in the Building Tulsa Building Lives campaign to create enough housing to end chronic homelessness in Tulsa, it seemed to us at the Mental Health Association in Tulsa, (and others agreed with us), that it made a lot of sense to also examine the services necessary to be utilized and "wrapped around" the chronic homeless (also referred to as the "hardest to house") to not only get them into housing, but to help keep them there until they stabilize in their new homes with all of the services they need in place.
A poorly kept secret is that while Tulsa has many, many wonderful non-profits with incredible boards and fabulous staffs, the level of cooperation and coordination among these service providers appears confusing and fragmented, and often ineffective in the eyes of the user of the services. "Go here for this, go there for that, and ride the bus across town to address those problems." Even if we have enough housing, these people will never make it without a highly coordinated and integrated service system that can adapt and integrate to their very complicated needs.
The homeless individual lives with a myriad of problems, including hygiene issues, mental and physical health problems, substance abuse addictions, homeless lifestyle patterns and friends, teeth problems, financial distress, spiritual depletion, legal entanglements, and on and on. The fact is no single agency, organization, or faith community, can go it alone to provide for all of the needs a person living homeless has developed over a long period of time. The alternative is these individuals need what all of our organizations have to offer, presented in an easily accessible, friendly, coherent, and effective manner that meets the specific needs of each of these special people. When you think that 80% of all homeless funds go to serve these 206 hardest to house individuals, the accomplishments of the goals of A Way Home For Tulsa becomes paramount if we are to agree chronic homelessness is unacceptable.
So go on...where did A Way Home For Tulsa originate?
It came from an agreement, led by Karen Davis and John Wolfkill, to chair a series of meetings and conversations that at one point involved 70 different individuals, agencies and organizations. Out of these discussions, meetings, all of them intense, and some a bit heated, came a consensus decision the first step to end chronic homelessness in Tulsa was to create a "centralized case management system" where all key "primary contact" organizations would participate. This participation would be conducted in a consistent, systematic,and organized manner, with commitments to participate over the long haul. The centralized case management system, now named Fresh Start, with commitments from 13 different primary contact organizations, will eventually be designed and "built to last." What cannot happen is that we get all fired up to do this, and gradually piece by piece get pulled away by other distractions or problems without the constant, steady commitment by all of us to work together to end chronic homeless in Tulsa. This commitment includes working together to end the horror for 206 Tulsans who have lived on our streets for years.
What is the current status of A Way Home For Tulsa?
Under Sandra Lewis's leadership, the first phase of development involving the case management system called Fresh Start is meeting and beginning to function on a consistent basis. While not yet operating at a level that will eventually develop, the experience and practice of different representatives from different organizations with different ways of doing things working closer together, has begun. The governance for the 13 separate entities that will manage and oversee the operations of Fresh Start is being finalized under the leadership of the Long Term Care Authority. This is not easy, as there are many competing interest needing to be worked out, and strong egos have strong opinions. I am confident we will get there. Fundraising has begun with a wonderful gift from the Hardesty Foundation, and other fundraising efforts are underway. The funds will go to provide grants to the participating organizations to help them maintain and pay for their time at the Fresh Start meetings and the extra time that is required to outreach to these hardest to house individuals. The funding will pay the organizations time to help these individuals move from homelessness, to housing, to engagement with the services they need, and ultimately, to stability.
What is the role of the Long Term Care Authority?
No other component of A Way Home For Tulsa has created more buzz and confusion than the role, and the funding needed in the first year for the services provided by the Long Term Care Authority. First, many local funders have never heard of LTCA. The fact is they have been around for at least 20 years in Tulsa and across the state. For years, they have been intimately involved in their work with the Oklahoma Department of Human Services in the design of better systems to serve Oklahomans with long-term care needs through the Advantage Program. Since that time, they have returned to their origninal function of working closer with local non-profits and health care systems like OU School of Community Medicine and OSU Medical Center to develop a community access network. They specialize in the development of systems change initiatives, strategic planning, infrastructure design, training, and consulting. Their long experience with the development of integrated case management will be critical to the success of achieving the goals of A Way Home For Tulsa. The Hardesty foundation gift was targeted to help pay for the one year funding for the expertise of the Long Term Care Authority. Their work to help the 13 organizations build our integrated network of service delivery to Tulsa's hardest to house individuals has already begun.
Educating the funders has also begun.
Karen Davis is helping to set up separate meeting with funders to better explain the goals and objectives of A Way Home For Tulsa. As mentioned, we have already met with the Hardesty Foundation and the United Way. Another meeting is scheduled with the United Way executive staff and we are scheduled with the Funder's Roundtable. Meetings with other funders are being developed.
The beauty of the plan from a funder's standpoint.
Accountability is a primary concern of every funder. Also, every funder talks about outcomes. A Way Home For Tulsa has the easiest to measure outcomes of any effort I can imagine. It is simple. There are 206 documented chronically homeless individuals in Tulsa, and we know their names. There initials go up on a board, and those names have to start coming down as people move into permanent housing with the needed services wrapped around them to help ensure housing stability. The organizations involved in AWFT are, as they should be, on the hook to bring these numbers down. If we cannot bring the numbers down, we have failed, and that cannot be an option.
Comparing Tulsa's effort to others around the country.
From the very beginning, I have said to anyone who would listen that our goal should be the first city in the United States to end chronic homelessness. I have been laughed at, eyes have rolled, and at times I have felt like I was being patted on the head. I remain undeterred. I know if we will set our "stuff" aside and really concentrate on these people and their special needs we can do this. We have a chance to do so something so special that people all over the country will be talking about it. What we are doing in Tulsa is already being noticed. I know that because I just represented us at the White House several weeks ago for the roll out of the United States Interagency Council on Homelessness's strategic planning report. Go to the USICH website and find the Federal Strategic Plan to Prevent and End Chronic Homelessness. What we are doing in Tulsa compares to what anyone in the country is doing to end homelessness in their own respective communities.
Let's get busy. It is a challenge of a lifetime.